Civilian James B. (‘Ben’ or ‘Benny’) McCarthy


Civilian James B. (‘Ben’ or ‘Benny’) McCarthy (aged 17) of Ardrah near Bantry (Derryginagh near Lough Bofinna in Bantry district)

Date of incident: night of 16-17 March 1923 (killed as suspected spy by IRA)

Sources: Death Certificate (Bantry District, Union of Bantry), 17 March 1923; CE, 20, 21 March 1923; FJ, 20 March 1923; Evening Herald, 20 March 1923; Irish Times, 20 March 1923; Application of Florence McCarthy to Irish Grants Committee, received 8 Nov. 1926 (CO 762/27/6/TNA); Keane (2017), 353-54, 422.


Note: ‘Ben’ McCarthy was taken from his parents’ house at Ardrah near Bantry by four armed men at about 3 a.m. on 17 March and executed as a suspected spy. His killers attached a label to his body stating, ‘Convicted spy. Shot as a reprisal for our comrades who were executed during the week.’ See CE, 20 March 1923. McCarthy was executed by the IRA, more or less unofficially, as he used to show National Army soldiers the houses that they could raid, so he was shot on St Patrick’s Day in 1923 without sanction as part of a broader set of IRA reprisals for recent executions of republican prisoners by the National Army. See Bielenberg et al. (2015), 157. In his application to the Irish Grants Committee, the victim’s father admitted that his son James B. McCarthy had been kidnapped and executed ‘as a consequence of his giving information and aid as a guide to [the] military under the British government during their operations in Ireland’. See Application of Florence McCarthy to Irish Grants Committee, received 8 Nov. 1926 (CO 762/27/6/TNA). 

At the coroner’s inquest held in Bantry Town Hall on 19 March 1923, it was revealed that Free State troops had found McCarthy’s body with several bullet wounds at about 8:30 a.m. on 17 March on the public road at Derryginagh near Lough Bofinna, about 3 miles east of Bantry and 4 or 5 miles from his parents’ residence. To the boy’s body was attached the ‘spy notice’ previously mentioned. The victim was a son of the farmer Florence McCarthy of Ardrah near Bantry. The victim’s age was reportedly 17. ‘The remains were subsequently removed for interment, and the funeral procession was a large one.’ See CE, 21 March 1923. See also Death Certificate (Bantry District, Union of Bantry), 17 March 1923.

In 1911 ‘Ben’ McCarthy was one of the six children of the Ardrah farmer Florence McCarthy and his wife Helena. Living with them in that year were two daughters and four sons ranging in age from 5 to 15. None of the given names of the four sons listed in the 1911 census was ‘Ben’ or Benedict, but young James McCarthy (then aged 5), the fourth and youngest son, used the name ‘Ben’; it appears that his middle name was Benedict. Years later, after his killing, his father referred to him in an official letter as James B. McCarthy.

The Irish Revolution Project

Scoil na Staire /Tíreolaíocht

University College Cork, Cork,